By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The crew of a US Coast Guard icebreaker has been busy working to keep the Delaware River’s shipping channel clear.

“We have almost 100 percent ice coverage, in some spots, greater than 6″ of ice,” said Chief Clayton Franklin.

Franklin commands the Coast Guard cutter “Capstan,” a 65′ small harbor tug. During a roughly nine-hour day, the cutter’s crew works to keep the shipping lane open, and make sure the vessels can moor, and safely leave the terminals.

“In addition to making sure we’re open for navigation, we also try to remove any ice dams that might form as ice breaks free and floats downriver in larger chunks, it tends to congregate in some of the sharper bends, and as it forms a dam, it causes flooding behind it,” he said.

Franklin says the work can’t be rushed.

“Our boat’s designed to break ice, so we’re slow in general,” he explains. “We can usually make 10 knots, or 11 miles an hour. When breaking ice, it’s not uncommon to slow us down all the way to one or two knots.”

He has a word of caution for those who may be tempted to test the ice by walking on it.

“I certainly would not recommend it at all,” he said. “Ice can be very deceiving as to its actual strength and thickness, and there are currents in the river that are moving underneath the ice, that are weakening the ice all the time.”

Although temperatures are forecast to hit the 50’s by week’s end, Franklin says the Capstan will still have plenty of work to do.

“We’re still looking at a couple of weeks of having to break ice, because the water temps will still be low, and they will warm up slowly, it’s not gonna be over anytime in the next week or so,” he said.

In addition to ice breaking, Franklin says the crew’s other responsibilities include law enforcement, and search and rescue. He says it’s a rewarding job.

“All of it’s fun,” he said. “Breaking ice is probably one of the most enjoyable parts of the job I’ve had so far. The camaraderie with the crew, it’s like a second family.”

Sunday marked six months since Franklin took command of the Capstan. It’s a big change from where he was last stationed.

“Morgan City, Louisiana,” he replied.

Where the only ice in need of breaking is destined for a drink.

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